Texas Sportsman
Game & Fish

   Subscribe  |  Customer Service  |  Store
   March 11, 2005
 Game & Fish
 Pick A State 
Crappie & Panfish
Stripers & Hybrids
Muskies & Pike
Fly Fishing
Ice Fishing
Whitetail Deer
Mulie & Blacktail
Elk & Moose
Other Big Game
Ducks & Geese
Upland Birds
Small Game
Guns & Shooting
Hunting Dogs


Texas Sportsman Magazine
Texas' 2002 Deer Outlook
Part 2: Finding Trophy Bucks
Is this the year you hang that trophy rack on your den wall? By employing the information we've provided here, your chances of taking that Texas dream buck should improve considerably.

Photo by Bill Lea

Believe it or not, the best news for big-buck hunters in 2002 is that 2001 wasn't that great of a season. Texas' typical big buck areas including the Pineywoods, the Rolling Plains and the Cross Timbers, didn't produce the bevy of monster bucks we've come to expect. Yet, even a mediocre year in our state is pretty good.

The 2001 edition of the Texas Big Game Awards program bears that out, including big non-typical whitetails coming from one end of the state to the other. Of the Top 20 bucks in this category, nine came from South Texas, five from the Post Oak Savannah, three from the Cross Timbers, two from the Hill Country and one from the Rolling Plains.


The biggest non-typical bucks in the state came from non-traditional big-buck country - northeast Texas.

Fannin County produced the state's top non-typical, a huge buck that netted 227 4/8 for Joe P. Moore.

Grayson County and the Hagerman WMA produced the No. 2 non-typical, a 225 7/8 net buck taken by bowhunter Jeff Duncan. Biologists estimated the buck was at least 10 1/2 years old. The cost of his hunt? Just $40 for the state annual hunting permit - plus the dedication and time to hunt the big buck religiously.

David Krajca hunted Ellis County for the No. 4 non-typical, a 222 1/8 buck that had more inches of antler than any Texas buck last year. Navarro County produced a 192 7/8 net buck, the state's No. 10 non-typical, for David Bowling.

So, what's the good news? An awful lot of good bucks survived the 2001 season and will be even bigger and better in 2002. Here's how the state's top big-buck areas did in 2001 and what to expect in 2002.

South Texas reasserted its dominance among big-buck chasers in 2001. The Brush Country produced 14 of the top 16 typical whitetail bucks in the 2001 Texas Big Game Awards program.

This includes eight Boone and Crockett typicals, topped by Guy Perkins' Frio County monster netting 176 2/8. Plus, another five "book" non-typicals came in, led by another Frio County giant taken by Roger C. Hill III netting 217 1/8 B&C.;

Frio County had a super season with at least seven big bucks among the state's top deer of 2001. South Texas counties were represented in this big buck roll call. Webb, LaSalle and Dimmit counties each produced three of these bucks. Two more came from Zavala County, while Atascosa and Maverick each produced one.

As usual, the outlook for this year depends a lot on Mother Nature. "Range and habitat conditions are key for any kind of forecast," said Joe Herrara, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department regional biologist for South Texas. The 2001 South Texas season was good because the area did have rainfall, Herrera said.

"This last year we had a very wet winter through mid-March. By that time, conditions, soil moisture and vegetation had an excellent start. We were set up for fawning season. Then, we never got any more rain from mid-March 2001 until the last day of August. Then, we had a little more rain in October and November - and that was the end of it."

In dry spells, South Texas deer rely on woody plants and shrubs instead of new vegetation. That option helps the deer survive but doesn't provide the best conditions for older bucks to grow their best antlers.

Lacking a wet summer, ranches with low deer numbers, proper habitat and cattle management (including rotational grazing), will be most likely to produce good bucks this fall.

More good news is that this year's mature bucks were born in the prime 1997 season. "We had plentiful rain the summer of 1997. In 2002, those deer will be in the 5 1/2 year age-class. The rains early in the 2001 season provided good range for the deer, but they were not good for the hunters. There was a carryover of those 1997 fawns to this year. There'll be a good class of mature bucks."

The Cross Timbers is coming of age as a deer-hunting region, as more landowners have shifted from quantity to quality deer management. This is the state's fourth most popular deer region, stretching west from Fort Worth and south to Brownwood with more than 70,000 hunters there.

"I know of several 200 B&C; gross bucks taken here last season," Brownwood biologist Danny Davis said. While those bucks came from intensely managed ranches, it shows the potential of the region.

Rainfall has been spotty but more than adequate in some areas, Davis said. Ranches that were blessed with spring rains could produce quality bucks again this fall.

Brown County is tops for deer numbers and quality, averaging almost 6,000 whitetails harvested each season. Brown also has the region's highest deer density, about one whitetail per seven acres.

Brown County produced the region's top TBGA entry in 2001, a big non-typical taken by James King Jr. that grossed over 200 points and netted 194 3/8. Brown County hunters took three other big non-typicals scoring from 169 3/8 to 163 0/8. Concho County produced a big non-typical that netted 190 4/8 for Chris Pat Palumbo, while a Hood County ranch produced a 185 0/8 gross buck for Joshua Carter. Montague County produced another that netted 189 3/8 for Chris Burns. Other big Montague non-typicals netted 174 6/8 and 164 5/8. This is a diverse region with big non-typicals coming from Wichita, Wilbarger, Bosque, Coleman and Shackelford counties.

Davis predicts a good carryover of older bucks not harvested in 2001, meaning those bucks should be a year older and bigger in 2002.

You almost have to consider this region, stretching south from the Red River in northeast Texas down nearly to Houston, as two hunting regions.

The tier of counties bordering the Red from Texarkana out to the Panhandle produces lower numbers of deer, but some are huge bucks. Half the state's top non-typical bucks came from this region in 2001. However, it's not the place to go if you expect success. Deer numbers are low, and mature bucks are few and far between.

If you're lucky enough to draw a permit to hunt the Hagerman WMA in Grayson County, you may be in the highest percentage public big-buck country in America. The Hagerman has produced a number of huge non-typicals in the past decade.

In 2001, there were huge Post Oak bucks from throughout the region including a 184 7/8 non-typical taken in Grimes County by Johnny Yargo.

The other end of the Post Oak Savannah, in south-central Texas, is not the place you'd expect to find big bucks. "There are still pockets of deer around, but most of these counties have low deer density numbers," TPWD whitetail deer program leader Clayton Wolf said. "There are more hunters out there than bucks available. With a one-buck limit and stiff competition for hunters to get a buck, they shoot the first one they see."

Help may be on the way. This fall TPWD is launching revolutionary new deer regulations in six south-central counties.

The regs, in effect for three years beginning this fall in Austin, Colorado, Fayette, Lavaca, Lee and Washington counties define legal bucks as deer with: 1) at least one unbranched antler, 2) six or more points on one side or 3) at least a 13-inch inside spread.

Because most bucks in these counties are 1 or 2 years old, expect a low buck harvest for the next two seasons as those deer mature. By 2004, if the program works, hunters should see a significant improvement in the number and quality of mature bucks.

"We do know that in Year One, the harvest will drop off," Wolf said. "We suspect that by Year Three, the harvest will shift to middle age-classes, and we should see a larger area of 3-year-old deer."

Three of the state's top 20 typical bucks from 2001 came from the Edwards Plateau. These were topped by Michael D. Smith's near-book typical buck that netted 168 7/8, taken in Williamson County, north of the Austin metro area, and Frankie Keller's hefty non-typical from the sheep-and-goat country of Schleicher County that netted 173 4/8. Williamson made another buck, Randy Freytag's non-typical that netted 162 4/8.

Medina and Mason Counties produced 165-class typical entries in the TBGA program last season. Medina County also produced two whopper non-typicals netting 188 5/8 and 187 0/8 B&C.; Kerr County produced a big typical that netted 161 1/8.

Landowners who've adopted intense management programs are producing quality deer, both by supplemental feeding and by dramatically reducing deer numbers. Many high-fenced Hill Country ranches are now producing bucks to rival any in the state. If this is your hunting area, focus on a well-managed ranch.

Related Resources
  • South Texas' Top Bucks of 2001
    In general, 2001 was a down year for Panhandle bucks, for no particular reason other than hunting conditions were lousy. The early season was hot and foggy. The rut was erratic, with some bucks chasing does all season and others going into a post-rut hiding act as early as Thanksgiving.

    In 2000, there was a heavy snow on opening week, which prompted an early rut but not in 2001. Given that a lot of mature bucks didn't get harvested last year, 2002 will be a boomer of a season on the Rolling Plains and in the eastern Panhandle.

    Justin Rader shot the Panhandle's biggest buck in 2001. Justin's non-typical, taken in Lipscomb County at the extreme northeastern tip of the Panhandle, netted 195 3/8. Noticeably absent from 2001's big-buck tally was Donley County, which has produced the state's top non-typical or typical buck in several years of the past decade. This is one of several counties in the eastern Panhandle that's known for whopper bucks. The single significant TBGA entry from Donley County was a non-typical that scored 167 3/8 for Jim Howell.

    Some of the big typicals that did make the TBGA in 2001 came from non-traditional deer counties. Armstrong County, just east of Amarillo, produced a 166 1/8 typical and another that scored 160 0/8. Hansford County, more known for pheasants than deer, produced another scoring 164 1/8. Hartley County's best buck was a 160 4/8 typical. Cottle County, which produced a huge non-typical buck in 2000, was good for a 160 2/8 typical. For 2002, look for big bucks coming from the eastern Panhandle.

    It was a disappointing season in the Pineywoods, which had been on a roll with huge bucks for several years.

    This region battled some of the same tough hunting conditions - heat and fog - that plagued other parts of the state during the early days of the season. That's when most East Texas bucks are shot. Watch for some whoppers to come to gun this fall.

    Bowie County produced a couple of big bucks - a net 162 7/8 B&C; typical and a 167 3/8 non-typical. Angelina County produced 160 3/8 typical and Cherokee produced a 170 6/8 non-typical. Another nice non-typical netting 165 7/8 was taken in Nacogdoches County.

    Of all places, Harris County, in the shadow of Houston's skyscrapers, produced a 156 6/8 typical!

    The best prospects for finding a big buck this year are at well-managed hunting clubs, on land within one of the growing number of wildlife coops or on national forest land. Off the beaten path, hunters in public forestland can have a shot at a trophy buck.

    The counties that include a large portion of industrial timberland include Jasper, Newton, Tyler, Polk, Trinity, Angelina, Sabine, San Augustine and Nacogdoches counties.

    "For the past several years, we've had some really big bucks taken in and around National Forest Land," said Clayton Wolf. "These areas may have lower deer densities, and hunting is tougher, but these areas can produce the buck of a lifetime."

    The Sabine National forest is in Sabine and Shelby counties. The Angelina NF is in Angelina and San Augustine counties. The Davy Crockett NF is in Houston and Trinity counties, and it produces huge bucks each year. The Sam Houston NF is in Walker, San Jacinto and Montgomery counties. All of the Sam Houston and smaller portions of the other forests are in the Public Hunting Program and require the $40 Annual Public Hunting Permit to hunt.

    "Studies showed that the peak of the rut is usually around the first week or two of November," said Wolf, "and that seems to correspond with when the bigger bucks come in. If I had to look for a spot to hunt the better-than-average buck, I'd go to the Davy Crockett National Forest."

    Discover even more in our monthly magazine,
    and have it delivered to your door!
    Subscribe to Texas Sportsman



    August 2002
     Subscribe Now!
     Give a Gift!